A few tips for perking up your pasta salad

07/29/2013 2:27 PM

07/29/2013 2:27 PM

An inquiry from a reader has me thinking about pasta salads.

They show up frequently at potlucks and barbecues. They are easy to throw together, and it is even easier to pick up a pint or two at a local deli.

There are many variations, but most are mayonnaise based and tend to have Italian flavors. Most are good but not especially memorable. I’ve made my fair share of pasta salads and have a few tips to perk up the flavor.

I feel the best pasta salads have an olive oil base rather than mayonnaise. Use plenty of green onions and soft fresh herbs such as chives, basil, cilantro, parsley and dill to give the salad character.

Another thing I have learned: If your pasta salad has vinegar as an ingredient, be sure to use white wine vinegar or a light colored one. Once, I used balsamic vinegar as it was handy and I like the flavor. Too late, I discovered it colored the pasta a very unappetizing dark color. It still tasted good if you ate it blindfolded, but the strange color was a definite turn-off.

Here are the question I received about pasta salad as well as a couple about vinegar, a universal salad ingredient.

We are moving to a new home and all my cookbooks are packed but won’t be unpacked until we actually move. My family’s favorite pasta salad was in your old cookbook from years ago. It was the Southwest Pasta Salad. I remember some of the ingredients but not well enough to make it. Since the cookbook is packed and not available, is it possible to get that recipe so I can make it this summer?

I’m delighted to share the recipe with you. It is an interesting twist on the traditional pasta salad as it is laced with flavors of the Southwest. If you make this salad several hours in advance, stir only half the dressing into the salad as pasta tends to act like a sponge and will absorb it all. Stir in the remaining dressing right before serving for best texture.

Southwest Pasta Salad

16 oz. rotini pasta, cooked according to package directions

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup frozen corn, thawed

1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup sliced black olives

6 green onions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

4 oz. (1 cup) shredded pepper jack cheese or more if desired

1 4-oz. can chopped green chilies, drained

1/3 cup pignoli (pine nuts), toasted

Dressing:

2/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup medium or hot salsa

3 tablespoons minced cilantro

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Toss warm, cooked pasta with olive oil. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Combine pasta in a large bowl with remaining salad ingredients except for the pine nuts.

Blend together the dressing ingredients. Pour over pasta mixture and toss gently to coat all ingredients. Refrigerate one hour for flavors to blend. Stir in pine nuts and serve.

Makes 10 servings.

Copyright “Contemporary Cooking From The Heartland” by Bonnie Aeschliman, 1992

Vinegar shelf life

What happens to balsamic vinegar when it is past the date on the bottle? Is it still useable?

The Vinegar Institute confirmed that vinegar lasts almost indefinitely. Since vinegar is a high-acid food, it does not require refrigeration. Over time, some changes may occur such a color changes or a haze or sediment may develop, but the vinegar is still safe to use. The change is only aesthetic.

How can vinegar clean my counter tops and still make my pickles taste good?

Vinegar is highly acidic. It is the acid that cleans by cutting through the grease and germs in your kitchen. It is the same acid that flavors your pickles and make them safe to eat for a long time as it inhibits the growth of bacteria and mold.

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